12 Life Lessons We Can All Live By

Recently a friend forwarded me a list of catchy liners that are meant to be good lessons for life.  While some are comical and others dismal, I found in the list some simple truths that are worth being reminded off for our benefits.

You don’t have to wait till midlife and learned these life lessons through own experiences. The advantage of youth is that you have the time to apply these lessons early to reap the maximum benefits in your happiness and well-being.

Taking cue from others’ list of life lessons out there, I have modified and compiled my own favourite list of 12 life lessons I want to live by. I hope you will find them relevant and benefit from them too.

1 – Take care of your body

You might live a long life, or you might live a short one. Nobody knows. Either way, you’re going to wish you took better care of yourself in your youth. So eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke – so that you never actually become one.

2 – Treasure your family

The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them well for they are a part of you. And children grow up way too fast. Make the most of the time you have with them. What matters most are the people in our lives.

3 – Build real friendships

A true friend will come running if you call them at 2am; everyone else is just an acquaintance. Don’t let your friendships fade away. Friendships need time and attention. Nurture them well and they will pay you off well.

4 – Work your vocation

Conventional wisdom says that you should get a job doing what you love! But that isn’t the best advice. The right job is the job you love some days, can tolerate most days, and still pays the bills. Almost nobody has a job they love every day. So give your best work while you can.

5 – Work in moderation

Nobody ever dies wishing they had worked more. Work hard, but don’t prioritise work over family, friends, or even yourself. You can never finish your work and work will always be there.

6 – Worry changes nothing

Most of the things we worry never happen. No matter how much we worry, it won’t change anything. Even if what we worry happens, they are rarely as bad as we fear they will be. Worry is useless unless it leads us to a solution. So learn to manage your worries.

7 – Seek experiences over things

Stuff is just stuff and things gather dusts.  Don’t hold onto material objects. The less stuff you have, the freer you are. Purchase mindfully. Hold onto time and experiences instead.

8 – See the world

Travel expands you. Go places. Do things. Be enlightened. It will make you more interesting and insightful. It is a pursuit well worth saving for. Pack a bag and go wherever you can afford to go. Don’t just buy stuff. Go discover our beautiful world.

9 – Keep on learning

There is so much to learn and so much to explore. Take time to learn every single day. Challenge yourself to acquire a new skill, read something different, or take a class. Learning keeps our minds engaged and sharp, even into old age.

10 – Take courage and overcome

You have more strength and resilience than you think you have. Whatever circumstances you are at or trial you are facing, it won’t last forever. You can handle it. The pain is temporary. Time heals. Things change. It will pass. You will get through it and survive.

11 – Appreciate small things

Be present in the moment and appreciate the small things. Little things matter. Don’t just look at the big wins or great accomplishments of others. Instead work to achieve and accumulate the little things that bring life’s joy and meaning.  Think of the special time with your kids, the smile on your spouse’s face or the important tasks you managed to complete.

12 – Live your life

We have limited time on earth. Don’t wake up one day in your old age and realise you haven’t done the things you dreamed about. Life is short so enjoy it. Don’t make things more serious than they have to be. Create more fun in your life. Make every day count.

Finding That Happy at Work

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. —Steve Jobs

I bet you have struggled to find job satisfaction one time or another. I know, i have been there, many times. Finding long lasting happiness at work is indeed rare. The scary fact is that most people (80% according to a Deloitte’s Shift Index survey) are dissatisfied with their job.

Yet if we look at how many hours we will work in our lifetime and how many hours we will commute for work, we will realise that it is a lot time to be spending on some thing that we are not happy at.

While some unhappy employees may muster up the courage to change careers, others (in fact, most) will likely suffer with it for the sake of job security. So what has happened to us along our career paths? Why do so many of us struggle in finding happiness at work?

Ask any boys of girls about their ambitions, they will give you a variety of interesting answers. Fireman. Dancer. Football player. Astronaut. Anything is possible. We may discount them for being young and naive and that they don’t know the struggles of life. Can they really be a successful dancer, football player or even an astronaut? Do they even know the risks that come with being a fireman? Cringe as you may, but their answers are actually guided simply by what they thought would make then really happy. There were no limits.

Now take a look at ourselves, the adults. There may be a determined few who have never lost sight of their aspirations to do and be what they wanted to be. But I suspect for the rest of us, we have forgotten our ambitions and and allowed our dreams to be washed down over the years. We begin to settle for jobs and compromise for the wrong reasons. We accepted the notion that it is just not realistic to pursue our passions and still make a decent living. Many of us have started on this path of compromise and it doesn’t look like we will ever going to make it back. This is sad mainly because we are likely to be spending more than a third of our lives working. And this compromise will slowly eat us away.

So what can we do to find happiness in our work?

Frederick Herzberg published a breakthrough article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of motivation theory, also known as the two-factor theory. He pointed that the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous scale – from very happy at one end to totally miserable on the other extreme, is flawed. Instead, happy and miserable at our jobs are separate and independent measures. That means it is actually possible to love your job and hate it at the same time. Hmmm…

Herzberg’s theory identified two different types of factors when it comes to finding satisfaction or happiness at the work place – Environmental Factors and Motivation Factors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are things like compensation, status, job security and work conditions. It matters that we receive fair compensation based on the market rate, given a certain status or title to operate in your role in a company that is generally thriving. It would even be better if our office setup is conducive and our supervisors do not treat us badly. Bad environmental factors can cause dissatisfaction. We have to actually address and fix the environmental factors in order just not to be dissatisfied or unhappy with our work.

Interestingly according to Herzberg’s research, even if we work hard at improving the environmental factors of our job, we are not going to suddenly love it or be truly happy with it. At best, we just won’t be unhappy or hate it anymore. You see, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction. It is merely the absence of job dissatisfaction. The absence of job dissatisfaction is not the same thing as job satisfaction or happiness at work. 

It is very important to address the environmental factors, but these alone are not going to get you very far when it comes to finding that happy, that job satisfaction that we seek.

Motivation Factors

How then can we truly be happy and satisfied with our jobs? This is where Herzberg provided insights on another set of factors that are more important in helping us achieve the satisfaction we seek. He calls them “motivators” or motivation factors. The intangibles such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth are examples of motivators.

Motivation factors are less about what we see in the outside, but much more about how it impacts us in the inside. Think about being in a job that emphasises on work that is meaningful, that is challenging yet interesting, that provides opportunities to increase our responsibilities and that allows us to grow professionally. These are the factors that will motivate us, to cause us to love what we are doing, to make us truly happy at work.

You can read more abour Herzberg’s research published in an article in the Harvard Business Review here.

It is easy for us to be mistaken that the tangible trappings of career success will always make us happy. Higher salary, more prestigious work title, bigger office or company car. After all isn’t these what our family and friends see as signs that we have “made it”?

However, as soon as we are drawn by these tangible aspect of our jobs, we risk getting enslaved with what pays rather that what makes us happy. We start to chase a job satisfaction or happiness mirage. The next pay rise, promotion, we think, will be the thing that will finally make us happy.

You see, beyond a certain point, environmental factors such as compensation, status and job security are actually by-products of being happy with a job, rather than the cause of it. Realising this can free us to focus on things that really matter.

Again, Herzberg’s theory of motivation suggests that we need to look at our careers from a different angle, asking ourselves totally different sets of questions.

  • Is this work meaningful for me?
  • Am I entrusted with increasing important responsibilities?
  • Am I learning new things or skills?
  • Is this job helping me to develop professionally?
  • Will I be recognised for my achievements?

These are the things that will truly motivate us. When we get this right, our focus on the tangible trappings will start to fade in importance. We are then on our way to finding happiness in our work. And when that happens, we will never work a day again in our lives. Yipeee!

5 Ways to a Happier You

I once heard a man conclude his 83th birthday speech saying that “The ultimate aim in life is happiness”. This statement from his speech had me thinking that night. Is happiness really “the” aim in life?

After some thoughts, I realised there might be some truth to his penchant for happiness. Look at it this way. If you were to ask enough times why something is important to you, chances are you will eventually end up with the same answer – so that you will be happy.

Why do I work so hard at my job? So that I can get that promotion. Why…? So that I can feel the sense of accomplishment and make more money. Why…? So that I can be happy.

Why do I get up so early in the morning to exercise? So that I have a healthier body. Why…? So that I am stronger and look fit. Why…? So that I play better sports and feel more confident about myself. Why…? Because it makes me feels good, and… happy.

Happiness may be all that matters in the end. Now, how then do I get this happiness constantly? Too bad that wise man left the stage without elaborating on this.

So I decided to spend some time to think about my happiness and how I can have more of it in my own life. With a little research and evaluation of my past experiences, I was able to quantify them into 5 ways.

1 – Get a handle

Your happiness is your responsibility. Period. The first step towards a happier you is to acknowledge that you and you alone are in charge of your happiness. Yes, it all starts and ends with you.

Our tendency is to put the blame on others every time something cause you to be unhappy. “My son spilled his milk again.” “The bad traffic made me late for my appointment.”

Sure, things can happen to you and it may not be your fault. You may not have caused it. But you should not put the blame of your unhappiness on others too. Your happiness from these situations will largely stem from how you think and how you respond.

So how can I take control of my happiness?

Awareness.
Awareness is the state of knowing your own feelings and ability to assess what you are capable of. This involves being able to understand your emotions and what triggers them.

So awareness is a good starting point for you to be happier today. Be aware always that happiness is something you choose for yourself. Every time you start drifting off, become aware of it. Get a grip of the negative feelings and work on being happy.

Two ways you can build and improve your self-awareness:

Review the day – At the end of the day, spend at least 15 minutes with yourself. Keep out distractions. Reflect and write down what happened to you, your feelings, and how you dealt with them. Take note of your emotion experiences. Focus on the positives.

Talk to others – Honest feedback from close family and friends can be invaluable. Write down what they say. Compile their inputs and compare them as you journey along. Again, look for trends. Is there anything you can learn from their perceptions of you?

2 – Count your blessings

Gratitude makes us happier. I won’t go into statistic but the fact that you are reading this in the comfort of your chair shows that you already have much to be grateful for. Be grateful that you are alive, healthy, that you have a family and many friends, that you have employment and comforts in life.

Research shows that gratitude is good for you. It reduces anxiety and depression, helps you become more positive, strengthens your relationships with others, and encourages compassion. It also has been shown to increase your feelings of happiness.

Every time you think that life is tough and there are no reasons to be happy, think of the many individuals that don’t get a chance to make it as far as you did. Poverty, famines, disease and droughts claim thousands of lives each year. Many don’t get proper education opportunities and many others struggle to put food on their tables.

Happy people know that they don’t get to be happy all the time. They can appreciate bright moments, little victories, small miracles and the positive encounters that bring real happiness.

Don’t put your focus on material things either. The path of continuing happiness does not come from the latest iPhone of a fancy car. Things will come and it will get old. The joy never last. Your blessings do not have to be derived from things.

Money and things will not make you happy. They will make you comfortable, but not buy you happiness. Happiness is beyond that. Happiness is a state of mind. It is generated from within. It starts and ends with you.

3 – Find your element

When you were seven and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, anything seemed possible. Fireman. Doctor. Soldier. Astronaut. Your answers then were guided by what you thought would make you really happy. There were no limits.

But for many of us, as the years go by, we begin to let our dreams be peeled away. We settled and allowed our conditions and surroundings to shape us into what was not meant to be.

Research suggests that when you are living your life and making choices that are in line with your values, you’re likely to feel happier.

So take a little time and reflect on what is most important and meaningful in your life. You can think about times when you felt happiest or most satisfied and what the common factors in those situations may be.

For example you may be unhappy now at the office. This dissatisfaction with your job can be traced back to a mismatch in core values. If your company doesn’t value the same things you do, you will feel unhappy even if you like your work.

4 – Give them away

Start being generous with your time and money: research shows that you will be happier for it.

In their book The Paradox of Generosity, sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson found that Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of 5.8 hours per month. Those who are “unhappy”? Just 0.6 hours. A total of 2,000 individuals were surveyed over a five-year period in this study. Researchers interviewed and tracked the spending habits and lifestyles of 40 families from different classes and races in 12 states, even accompanying some to the grocery store.

If giving is good for you, why aren’t more people generous? After all you could be generous in your own way and at your level. I did some hard thinking and realized that I was actually afraid. Afraid?! Yes, afraid that it would be a loss. Afraid that if I gave money away or devoted my time, I would be losing something. So I have not been as generous as I could be because in part I was ignorant, but more so I was feeling fear and insecurity.

Now I understand that generosity will benefit me and not just other people.

We may think that we can only be generous once we have make it or made enough if money. This is a fallacy for that day may never come. It is in our nature that when we have more, we will want more.

Therefore the idea is to start giving your time and money to those in need today. You don’t have to look very far. Start with your immediate circle family and friends, your workplace and surrounding community.

Be kind to your spouse. Spring clean your wardrobe; give away clothes that you have not been wearing. Is there a nephew or niece that I can help their homework with? How about treating your co-workers lunch? Any non-profits in your community that you can volunteer your time or contribute money to? Look around, and you will start finding opportunities for you to get generous.

Start small and you will be happier immediately.

5 – Do something fun

Indulging in what is fun to you will make you happy. What would you do if you have some time off?

Whatever it is, carve out some time for your hobbies. Don’t go for a big hobby project that requires consideration time off and money yet. Go for the easy wins immediately, hobbies that do not have to take away a big chunk of your time. Plan and book it on your calendar so that you can indulge it without guilt.

I enjoy movies but I have always been bombarded with the feeling that watching movies is a waste of time. Often I would watch a movie (because I just enjoy a nice action flick) and feel horrible afterwards because three hours have passed. A good three hours which I could have done something more productive with.

Another important thing is you have to be able to choose the activities that are personally meaningful in order to make a difference in experience level. The ability to choose is very important for happiness. Intentional activities

The next time you are feeling down, try taking a break and have a little walk. Get outside, enjoy some fresh air. Travel to a new place. Visit the museum. Go to a concert. Studies have also shown that the feeling of wonderment and amazement can promote happiness and well-being. Depending on your interest, this overwhelming positively feeling can be derived from going on a beautiful hike, visiting a natural wonder, looking at masterpiece of art, or listening to an incredible piece of music. Once in a while, indulge in activities that will impress and even excite you.

What next?

At the end of the day we all know that it is easier said than done. Although I have been putting the above 5 ideas to work, I am still facing my fair share of unhappiness. Life is still a challenge at times and it will always be filled with ups and downs.

Regardless, it is important to know that your life is sprinkled with ample opportunities for discovering happiness. Look for the little things that will make you happy.

Being happy is a choice. It is just like the decision to pursue the actions, such as the five ideas in this article, that will develop happiness in your life.